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Friday, October 4, 2019

X-amining X-Man #5

"The Man Who Fell to Earth"
July 1995

In a Nutshell
Age of Apocalypse refugee Nate lands in Switzerland & takes a last name.

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Steve Skroce
Inker: Bud LaRosa
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Mike Thomas & Digitial Chameleon
Editor: Lisa Patrick
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Nate lands disoriented in the Swiss Alps. Dazed and unsure where he is, he stumbles across a highway and is picked up by a truck driver. But when Nate becomes suspicious, his powers flare out of control, destroying the truck and leading Nate to stumble into the nearby town on Montreux. Meanwhile, Bishop & Professor X are discussing Bishop's strange dreams when Xavier psychically detects Nate's presence, followed immediately by that presence becoming cloaked, something that's never happened to Xavier before. In Montreux, Nate confronts a man he thinks is Forge, but is actually a resident of Montreux named Sven. Seeing that Nate is in need of help, Sven brings him to his home. When asked his name, Nate adopts the surname "Grey", thinking of his mother. He then falls asleep on the couch while Sven goes for food. Nate wakes up later to discover he's not alone: he has been joined by a red-haired woman who says her name is Madelyne Pryor.

Firsts and Other Notables
With this issue, X-Man becomes the one "Age of Apocalypse" alternate series to remain in publication following the end of the event, becoming the ninth monthly X-book and the second to star, functionally, Cable. Thanks to the financial inertia of the X-books in the mid 90s, this series will (inexplicably at times) last 75 issues, with the title character sticking around and appearing to varying degrees even after the book is cancelled, most notably serving as the driving force behind the AoA-inspired "Age of X-Man" event.

Speaking of, Cable's pre-AoA creative team sticks with this book as Steve Skroce ends his brief run on Cable.

This issue concludes with the return of Madelyne Pryor, last seen in Uncanny X-Men #243, her memories having been transferred to Jean Grey just prior to her death. This version of Madelyne will turn out to be a "psionic construct" created by Nate, who will go on to join the Hellfire Club, regain her memories and enter into an ill-advised relationship with Nate (who is, genetically, her son), before ultimately being killed off again (though the character will later return after her X-Man stint via various means).

Nate adopts the surname “Grey” after being reminded of Jean in this issue (he had previously just been “Nate”); his thoughts of Jean will also play a role in Madeline’s return.

A Work in Progress
Bishop, continuing the long-standing X-tradition of discussing his problems over yardwork, discusses his flashes of Age Of Apocalypse memories with Xavier, who once again senses Nate’s presence.

Narrative captions here also suggest Nate is a more powerful telepath than Xavier.

Nate is able to telepathically teach himself another language.

It's in the Mail
A note on the letters page says that editorial received numerous letters asking for the character to stick around which seems...dubious.

Austin's Analysis
As will become apparent over time, one of the problems with X-Man as a series is just how passive a character Nate Grey is, one who has things happen to him rather than driving the story himself, and this first issue of the series set in the prime reality showcases that passivity right out of the gate. Back in "Age of Apocalypse", X-Man was one of the better series, featuring a more cllasical Hero's Journey arc for the title character set against the backdrop of a nihilistic, non-traditional narrative in which the villain has already won. That juxtaposition imbued the series with tremendous energy, and helped propel Nate along familiar & comfortable beats: discovering his powers, yearning to strike out on his own, losing a mentor & learning the price attached to his powers, accepting his destiny by confronting the villain. Here, Nate is entirely reactive, doing little more than dazedly wandering through a vaguely-Swiss town before waking up to the image of his genetic mother's clone. Everything he does in the story he does instinctively or reactively, without any real agency or purpose.

Granted, the depiction of Nate's responses to finding himself in a whole new reality without explanation isn't unrealistic; it makes sense that he'd be disoriented and unsure what to do. But being realistic & understandable doesn't make it entertaining or enjoyable, and by isolating Nate from any other known characters, it prevents someone else from carrying the load of being proactive (or entertaining) while the title character responds realistically to his surroundings. By dropping Nate into an Apocalypse-free world and immediately into a fish-out-of-water story, it essentially robs the character of what made him entertaining in the first place and what - theoretically - led to audiences demanding he stick around after "Age of Apocalypse" ended. Unfortunately, "presenting the character is the least entertaining way possible" is very much a harbinger of things to come for this series. 

Next Issue
Next week: X-Men (vol. 2) #42, X-Force #44 and Wolverine #91!

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  1. I don’t know what to say. I didn’t read this comic. I wonder if there wasn’t a single person to tell the people behind the comic that Nate Grey having sex with his mother, even if a clone of hers, was outrageous?

    All I remember is that X-Man had no real impact anywhere else, he was barely remembered. If this was the case, and the same happened to almost all the other AoA characters who made the jump to the main reality, why bother bringing them, then? X-Man should have died in issue 4.

    1. The AoA refugees were used fairly regularly in the post-AoA run-up to Onslaught. They faded away after that (of course, the creators who brought them over also left their books around that time, too), but Dark Beast maintains a presence (and, of course, X-MAN runs for a good long while). Everyone pretty much disappears in the 00s, but then the 10s bring a resurgence of interest in AoA that arguably culminates in "Age of X-Man".

      Are these anyone's favorite characters, do they represent all time classics? Probably not. But it's not like they were completely ignored after coming over. They had their day in the sun, then faded into the background to get dusted off periodically. That's a comic book character life cycle not unique to those four characters.

  2. I was hooked simply because of Madelyne Pryor. I had started reading X-Men with issue 279 and with the help of great local stores (and Marvel Cards telling me top stories and first appearances), I had ever issue from #180 through this point and time. I was so hooked and the early to mid 200's are my favorite time of X-Men history, especially Inferno. Bringing her back was great. Adding the Hellfire Club, even better. Then adding Trevor Fitzroy and he’s trying to get into the Hellfire Club, and Mr. Sinister is here too..... I'm so in.

    X-Man as the main character, completely terrible, having him sex up a form of his mom he brings to life, insanely bad. Worse than Norman Osborn getting high schooler Gwen Stacy pregnant with twins....wait, maybe not, I don't know.

    Simply put, they give very little reason to care for him once he's on earth 616. He's sort of blank slate the just goes along with everything. This book would have been better off just showing all the shenanigans and back stabbing in the villain world.

    1. Yeah, the Nate/Maddie stuff is ridiculous, but I'm on board with the return of Madelyne Pryor. She's one of my favorite characters. All the stuff with her, the Hellfire Club, etc. in this book is entertaining. It isn't really until it moves away from all that it becomes truly dreadful, even if it's never great and Nate is a passive character stumbling through his own book from day one.

  3. "A note on the letters page says that editorial received numerous letters asking for the character to stick around which seems...dubious."

    Strangely, they all had the same handwriting & street address as Bob Harras, and their names were all variations on his, too. A kooky coincidence, I'm sure.

    Even after AoA ended & they announced this, my first thought was, "Why didn't they pick someone else to stick around for the heroes?" I personally thought that AoA Sabretooth (who is heroic & noble in all the ways his 616 counterpart is cruel & awful) would make an interesting subject (maybe have his surrogate family join him?), but instead they tried to mangle the main line version badly into that mold. I took this book as the first real tipper that leaving after AoA was probably a good thing.

  4. The feel in the story is in certain way very much like in Rachel's solo escapades in UXM ~#180-#210 with various panels almost doing homage to stuff in those issues, mixed up with Nocenti's LONGSHOT miniseries, topped with Bishop doing tree stuff with an axe in the mansion yard and over-the-topped with Maddie returning. Was mid-80's UNCANNY Jeph Loeb's personal golden age?


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